By Michael James LeClair
LUNENBURG - Despite a gritty effort by the Lunenburg Little League All Star team, it came out on the short end Saturday afternoon.
The future Blue Knights welcomed Leominster American Little League to Marshall Park's Powell Field for their opening pool play game of the Massachusetts District 3 Little League All Star Tournament.
Lunenburg hung tough, giving the visitors all they could handle but a three-run fifth inning by American broke a late game tie as American hung on for a 4-2 win.
For American, the win was its second in as many games in pool play after defeating Chuck Stone of Athol in their opening contest.
For Lunenburg, the loss put the team at 0-1 entering its second game of pool play on Monday evening on the road against Quabbin.
After Saturday's game Lunenburg manager Todd Kelly talked about his squad's performance.
"I'm proud of the effort today. The fifth inning ended up hurting us. Letting the bottom of their order get on base came back to get us," said Kelly. "American is a good team with good hitters and tough to keep them down for an entire game."
Kelly's son, Brady, threw well for the hosts, lasting four and two-thirds innings before being pulled when he reached his pitch limit. Brady Kelly allowed four runs on six hits while striking out eight batters. Eli Wright came on in relief of Kelly, pitching the final inning and a third, retiring all four hitters he faced.
After American broke through with a single run in the top of the first inning off the Lunenburg defense, the hosts answered in the home half of the first with a single run of their own to knot the score at 1-1 after one complete inning.
Wright kicked things off in the first inning with a walk before a stolen base moved him into scoring position. Anthony Tammaro followed with a single to move Wright to third base. A wild pitch later Wright crossed home plate with the tying run.
Lunenburg Cayden Chow also singled in the inning but was stranded on base along with Tammaro when American starter Jadis Delgado retired the next three hitters to work out of the jam.
"We struggled with the bats, we'd get a base hit and then we'd watch some really good pitches go by," said Kelly. "We just couldn't get the timely hits we needed and we couldn't string anything together today."
After a tough first inning that saw the younger Kelly throw 22 pitches, he settled down and set American down in order in the second inning on just 10 pitches. Kelly recorded nine straight outs, not allowing a baserunner for three straight innings.
"Brady labored through that first inning, throwing a lot of pitches, after that he settled down and started working in his secondary pitches," said Kelly. "Hi changeup was looking good, keeping those big bats off balance."
Lunenburg had opportunities to grab the lead in the second, third and fourth innings. In each frame Lunenburg put runners on base but couldn't come through with the timely hit. Cam Begley lead off the second inning with a bunt single and would move to third base on a pair of wild pitches however that was were he stayed. In the third inning Lunenburg put two runners on thanks to an infield hit by Chow and a American fielding error that allowed Brett Richard to reach base but again neither could touch home plate as Delgado worked his way out of the mess.
With the score still tied at 1-1 entering the top of the fifth, American finally got to Kelly and the Blue Knights. After a hit by pitch to open the inning, Kelly struck out the next two batters before three straight hits chased home a trio of runs to make it 4-1 and knocked Kelly from the ballgame.
Lunenburg got a run back in the bottom half when Richards reached on an error, took second and third on a pair of wild pitches and then came in to score on another American fielding error to make it a 4-2 ballgame.
It remained a 4-2 game into the last of the sixth. After two quick outs, Lunenburg was able to get a runner on base when Wright reached on an error. Representing the game-tying run at the plate Tammaro went down swinging to end the ballgame.
In Monday's contest at Quabbin, Lunenburg once again came out on the short end as it fell 7-4 to drop to 0-2 in pool play.
"It was a tough loss for the boys, Brett Richard really battled and pitched well for us. A couple of miscues in the field cost us a few runs leading us to being down 7-1 at one point," said Kelly via text message Monday night. "We scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth and had the bases loaded but grounded out to third base to end the game. The boys showed a lot of heart battling back."
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